Dell—sideline reporter for NESN, the Red Sox-majority-owned channel—and Middlebrooks went public with their relationship on New Year’s Day, posting a picture of them together at a party. Rumors of the pair becoming a couple started to surface before the holiday season.
Why are the private lives of two consensual adults the public fodder of this or any other media outlet? Well, it is complicated.
Let us start with the blatant conflict of interest of a co-worker publicly covering another co-worker whom they are romantically linked. Does NESN post a disclaimer every time she interviews another player? What happens if the Red Sox do decide to re-sign Stephen Drew, as it is her partner that will lose significant playing time if that happens.
NESN does a very good job of keeping the broadcasts Red Sox-friendly without going into full Ken Harrelson Red Sox homerism. If Dennis Eckersley or Jerry Remy questions what a player is doing, that is allowed.
Does NESN try to pass her off now as a non-reporter during games? That would be a huge slap in the face to an audience that the team and the channel carefully constructs an image of to keep them watching.
Then there is this item that appeared in Richard Deitsch’s weekly Media Circus column for Sports Illustrated. In approaching the topic, Deitsch asked others if it would be appropriate for Dell to cover Middlebrooks and the Red Sox.
One reporter answered this way:
Boston Globe sports reporter (and former Red Sox beat writer) Amalie Benjamin: "Never. Ever. And more, it hurts the credibility of every female reporter doing it the right way."
You should note two things with that response.
One, Benjamin is exactly right. The Red Sox and NESN would be doing aspiring journalists, regardless of gender, a huge disservice to allow such a blatant conflict of interest. We can argue how much actual reporting Dell does during the course of a game, but because of how high her profile is, she is a major face of the franchise. Casual fans are going to know she is.
More importantly, due to all the cross-ownership, Benjamin and Dell are technically co-workers. John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox, which in turn owns 80 percent of NESN, is now the owner of the Globe.
If we have learned anything from the years that Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino have ran the club, it is they are extremely sensitive to how the public perceives the team and how they act. It is more than a marketing and moneymaking ploy, this group is genuinely involved with the city of Boston and the rest of New England.
With Jerry Remy’s future unresolved, at least in public, NESN must act quickly and quietly to take the public focus off Dell and Middlebrooks and allow them to have their future in private.
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